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BY MPHO KUHLMANN
A martyr of conscience: That seems like some heavy words to describe a hedonic persona that lived life to the hilt. The phrase however perfectly answers the riddle that is Thuso Letlhoma as he stands at a life and death cross-roads and has to make a decision for or against his conscience.
Far from his console at Radio Botswana where he spent a career spanning decades, spinning discs to entertain a legion of secular music enthusiasts, Letlhoma who goes by the sobriquet Thuzosky is now bound to a Princess Marina Hospital bed, flirting with death.
His illness requires that his leg be amputated and thus a blood transfusion be performed. Thuzosky a follower of the Jehovah’s Witness faith has since rejected a blood transfusion and stands firmly in his decision.
This Christocentric logic makes great sense to Thuzosky, even if it makes little sense to his army of fans and colleagues in the media industry. He is currently facing fierce skepticism for his attempt to live out his conscience.
A few weeks ago the Botswana Media and Allied Workers Union (BOMAWU) organised a demonstration to force Thuzosky to consent to a blood transfusion - a hot-button issue that has divided the local media.
Speaking to the Sunday Standard from his hospital bed, Thuzosky seems to bear cheerfully with the opposition and mockery that attend his decision. Like a true martyr of conscience he stands for his convictions without flinching while empathizing with his critics without hesitating: “To some extent I sympathize with a lot of people who seem to feel that I’m choosing to suffer and that I want to die. I see it as not coming from a place of malice. They love me and want to see me well which is fine. Avery important question in Jehovah’s Witness is, Is life all there is? So my question is if I do indeed agree to a blood transfusion will it save me from dying because I can leave this place and die from something else.”
In the founding texts of Christianity and Islam (in Greek and Arabic respectively) the word for martyr is identical or nearly identical to that for witness, someone who gives testimony about something they believe to be true, or have seen for themselves.
In confused times, and this is one of those, when believers feel that their fellow Christians have been seduced by the softer options offered by the prevailing culture, they have stressed the importance of giving witness. Thuzosky has stepped up to the plate. He is however adamant that his choice to refuse blood transfusion is a personal one and not influenced by his faith. “I’m not controlled by the church, it is my personal choice to refuse a blood transfusion and I don’t intend on going back on my decision. There are many cases abroad of doctors performing blood transfusions without the patients consent. I do not want any of that. I have had a few arguments with people on the issue and I still stand by my choice. If I did decide to allow for a blood transfusion then it would be me pleasing everyone and not myself. The doctors have taken a stand that my leg needs to be amputated; I think however, that, that is an irreversible decision which is why I went to seek a second opinion. I was told that an amputation isn’t the last option there is still something to be done.”
His decision however points to the strength of faith and conviction that trumps even the natural fear of death. For champions of freedom of conscience it is as deeply stirring as it is inspirational.
Thuzosky’s case brings home the global conflict between religion and medicine and theirincompatible ways of viewing the world.
The conflict between medicine or science and faith, rests on the methods they use to decide what is true, and what truths result: These are conflicts of both methodology and outcome.
In contrast to the methods of medicine, religion adjudicates truth but via scripture and authority – in other words, through faith, defined in Hebrews 11 as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In medicine, faith without evidence is a vice, while in religion it’s a virtue. Recall what Jesus said to “doubting Thomas,” who insisted in poking his fingers into the resurrected Savior’s wounds: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
Even without the scripture, Thuzosky has the law fighting his corner. Precious Gondwe, founding partner of Precious & Partners in Gaborone says “can an obligation to respect the religious choices of others justify the honoring of a patient’s decision to refuse lifesaving treatment? Can the state’s interest in safeguarding its citizens override that of privacy, autonomy, religious freedom and tolerance? All these are questions that our courts are yet to interrogate. Section II of the Constitution of Botswana protects the right to freedom of conscience, because of this right individuals are free to enjoy the benefits that flow from it such as the freedom of thought and religion. Like any other right, the freedom of conscience has constitutionally recognized limitations. As per the Constitution nothing done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with the freedom of conscience if the said provision serves as authority in the interests of defense, public safety, public order and public morality for the purposes of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons. The limitation should however be shown to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society. It is evident that Botswana lacks a clear and concise means/instrument under which one can legally express and enforce control over their own body. It is posited however that values, principles and rights such as religious freedom, privacy, autonomy and bodily integrity can all be used in the advancement of arguments in favour of voluntary consent to no medical treatment. Additionally, the common law is in place to further aid in the promotion of the autonomy of patients who wish to refuse medical treatment.”
Dr Orapeleng Phuswane, a Public Health Physician with the Ministry of Health and Wellness says consent should and must always be obtained.” It is really different. It depends, if an under who is under 21 can sign a consent form and say I don’t want any blood then they will not get it even in an emergency setting. However if it is a child then that is a different case altogether because essentially, a child is still under the care and protection of their guardian and it states in the children’s act that a child belongs to the state. In that case the doctor can advise the parent on what needs to be done and if the parent disapproves then they are free to obtain a court order. Ethically, a doctor is obliged to do what is good for his patients and listening is part of it, if a patient refuses something to be done on them then as a doctor you should oblige to it because the patient has autonomy over their body. The right to autonomy is expansive and despite a doctor’s convictions based on oath, they cannot override it. All the doctor can do in the end is to advise on the pros and cons of not doing a procedure.”
We publish below Batswana’s opinion of the issue gleaned from social media.
Bashi Tosh Ntshole: Religious matters are difficult to solve even in the courts of law. Maybe the individual is prepared to die but fa a tselwa madi believes gore he'll go to hell.
Joel Motswagole: It looks like the man has made a conscious decision to die and lona le batla a tshela. Whose right is paramount in this case? If the guy was s minor then the High Court as custodian of minors will intervene. They usually do so when our Zezuru compatriots refuse to immunize their children due to religious beliefs.
Ben Kay Ketumile: the colleague made a conscious decision. It is his and his alone. Each one who is a baptized Jehovah's Witness has a right, in accordance with his Bible based conscience not to accept blood transfusions even if their lives depended on it. That is a right protected by the Constitution of this country.
Kennedy Chamme: If they are rejected outright from the start by the minister they won't be a problem. Some churches have draconian laws and mind you every one is different from the next human and reacts differently to various situations so if they have such laws they are danger to those respective church members. We simply can't have churches with repressive laws that stop church members to access health facilities. Can't have cult like churches period. I know tsa fire which promotes believes that its God's will when you are sick and don't encourage them to go to health facilities.